Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Slow progress

It's been a passion with me to collect paint supplies, and although I bring them out once in a while, seriously getting around to putting paintbrush to paper was tougher.

My interest is in painting birds, and watercolours do bring out the details of this fascinating subject wonderfully.   Being a self-taught artist (how easily that rolls out..) comes with a price, and one needs to be really honest or have good critics around who can say things that are constructive without damaging the delicate artist's ego.  All I can say with the experience of exactly four pieces of relatively small-sized watercolours is that I have a long way to go. I would advise any other closet artist to invest in a good spiral bound artist's block which can chronicle your efforts. Although this can make you cringe when you look at your first attempts, you can progressively cheer up - in fact, if you flip the pages fast enough you  might see more of the good parts.

The really wonderful part about painting was that I turned my attention not only to the details of the birds, their plumage, their silhouette etc., but I began noticing trees: their trunks, their shapes, the branches and leaves. All these paintings are from photographs taken by the boys, but I was witness to these birds in nature, and I recall everything that happened, how the photograph was shot, and the sense of exhilaration we felt when we saw the bird.  This is reflected in the paintings, rather these attempts at painting them. Sketching, noticing forms, brush control, paint fluidity all these were learning experiences. While I have tried to be true to their basic shapes, this appears to be more a snapshot of their mood, some sort of continuation of my professional work in editing and publishing. The paintings really are edited versions of the photographs.

Interestingly the bird that looks fairly "flat" in the photograph, the shikra,  has come out quite well as a painting. That's because I had to take more effort in layering to get the effect I wanted.  I remember feeling a keen sense of awe watching this beautiful bird at head height (we were in the Canter at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve) just about 12 feet away from us. The effect was of silent power couched in delicate colours.

Update: I had a discussion with my friend Kamini about these paintings, and after that I decided to post the original photographs alongside the paintings so you can get an idea of how much editing and cropping I had to do to translate it into a painting.  These are actually photographs of photographs since I did not have the digital files with me. The photographs of the Flame-backed Woodpecker and the Spotted Dove were taken by Anant and three others by Dipak. It is difficult to encapsulate the magic of the Shikra and almost ashen coloured tree trunks and branches that provide an almost ethereal quality to the photograph. Even the blurry yellow leaf that appears in the foreground can be excused - remember that these are photographs taken from a vehicle and we stopped for barely thirty seconds. One does not go about manoeuvring one's position in a Canter with several other people! The thing about my painting is that I have no patience in taking time over the painting - since these aren't really large canvases. I feel compelled to do the sketch, filling and background in one sitting. One could call it artistic urge, but...actually, I know it's just plain old impatience. 

Oriental Tree Pie - this social, almost tame, bird was common in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Don't miss the blotches of paint hidden really badly with white paint. What a mess!

Blossom-headed Parakeet - a riot of colours, really a challenge for me to figure it out (as you can tell) This beautiful bird really appears boring in my painting.

Perky Flame-backed Woodpecker sitting on the Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma)  - it was high up on this tree and quite small.

Shikra at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

Don't forget to leave some blank pages in between so little hands can have a go too. Sketch of a  Spotted Dove (minus the spots) by  Anant (June 2010)


  1. The shikra is really good.

    Shouldn't the Alexandrine have a flash of maroon on the shoulder? It is rather distinctive.

  2. i wrote alexandrine first, and then cross-checked with boy -- he said it was actually a blossom headed parakeet -- so I corrected it later. thanks for pointing that out. Yeah, I'm not happy with that painting at all -- I rate it the worst of the lot.

  3. When you post it with the original pics - your work looks even more amazing. One more quibble (sorry about this) the perspective on the head to body of the shikra is a little off... Just for future reference.

    PS: what camera are the guys using?

  4. baah...sorry for the poor grammar on that comment :(

    Nami: can't you integrate the CAPTCHA/word verification with the first screen of the comment? why go through having to post it twice?

  5. Yeah, there is something about the shikra, especially about the front, slightly off in proportion. No problems about pointing it helps really. Even Dipak is very factual about conveying such things. He even went so far as to say that the first three did not look like watercolours at all because they did not have that translucent nature. I'm not very happy about the initial sketch of the shikra -- because there is an angle at which it is bent in the original which hasn't come across. I really wonder whether I should make things larger so I'm able to focus on proportion better -- these are very small, the entire page of the sketchbook is half the A4 size, so you can imagine how small the actual bird is. I should actually measure them instead of babbling. Which really brings me to the issue of artistic licence, how much to really stick to what we see, what if I hadn't seen them in real life, or what if I didn't have a good photo as reference etc. Incidentally Dipak uses a CANON EOS 500D. When it comes to birds, somehow I would like to be as accurate as possible especially the colours and the silhouette. Need to practice really.
    Let me check out about the word verification bit. The first few weeks I didn't even realise I had comment moderation on! So you can imagine. Thanks so much for commenting -- it really helps!

  6. Yeah - i noticed that my first comment didn't show for ages - i kept wanting to mail/msg you telling you have to approve comments - but forgot. :D

    If my scanner was working - i'd send you copies of pics a friend of mine in sweden paints. she's mainly into watercolours and she amazingly gets everything about the animal without putting in any details. somehow she distills the essence of the animals onto paper- i don't know how else to say it.


    There - i found her webpage. some samples of her work there. i esp. love the hakuna matata one - cos it's so minimalistic and still conveys it all.

  8. i just checked it out -- the hakuna matata one almost looks like an ink blot. I think that's the difference -- some training on how to use watercolours could come in handy. There is a technique to it, and I think larger sketches would help me use that technique of drawing the paint away to get that translucent effect. Idea -- maybe painting words with minimal water colour paint, something like calligraphy,might be good practice.

  9. I know it will take away from the sheen of being 'self taught' :D but you could explore the net. Sure there are many site teaching you how to use water colours to get that washed effect. else, dipak is right - it looks like poster colours/acrylics.


Thanks for stopping by. I'd be happy to see your comments and suggestions. If there are any queries, please post them and I will get back to you ASAP.